Header Item Written Answers Nos. 231 - 240
 Header Item Road Signage
 Header Item Local and Community Development Programme Project Funding
 Header Item Local Government Reform
 Header Item Local Authority Staff
 Header Item Water Pollution
 Header Item Household Charge Exemptions
 Header Item Irish Water Administration
 Header Item Irish Water Establishment

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 857 No. 1

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Written Answers Nos. 231 - 240

Road Signage

 231. Deputy Brendan Griffin Information on Brendan Griffin Zoom on Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly the options available to residents of locations (details supplied) in County Kerry, whose placenames no longer appear on signage bilingually as a result of the Official Placenames Act; if consideration will be given to changing this through local consensus; if so, what the process would be and the way local persons engage in this process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42635/14]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Alan Kelly): Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly Section 48 of the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011 provides for the substitution of a new Part 18 of the Local Government Act 2001, revising and updating the procedures for the changing of placenames.

Under the new arrangements, a proposal to change a placename will, in the first instance, be a function of the relevant local authority. Any proposal adopted must specify the proposed new name in the Irish language only, or in both the Irish language and the English language, and must be approved by at least half of the members of the local authority or municipal district. Following consultation with certain prescribed persons and the public, local authority or municipal district members may by resolution (passed by not less than half the members) decide to hold or not to hold a ballot of the qualified electors in the place to which the proposed new placename applies. If a ballot takes place and the proposal is approved by a majority of the qualified electors, the Cathaoirleach of the local authority or the municipal district makes a declaration that the new placename shall apply from a specified date.

Where it is proposed to change the name of a place in a Gaeltacht area and that proposal is carried by a majority of the votes cast, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht must make an order declaring that the proposed new placename will become the placename in respect of the place concerned and any pre-existing provision of a placenames order made under section 32 of the Official Languages Act 2003 will stand revoked.

Certain elements of section 48 of the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011 relating specifically to Daingean Uí Chúis in County Kerry have been commenced. The remaining provisions, dealing with placename changes generally and the process described above, will be commenced as soon as the necessary regulations setting out procedures for the holding of a ballot and other related matters have been finalised.

I have no function in relation to road signage which comes within the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.

  Question No. 232 answered with Question No. 222.

Local and Community Development Programme Project Funding

 233. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly if he will provide funding through the SICAP or through any other programme under his Department to facilitate the continued operation of the development companies on the non-Gaeltacht islands of Bere, Sherkin, Clare, Inishturk and Inishbofin, which between them were allocated in excess of €460,000 this year through Comhar na nOileán; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42639/14]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Alan Kelly): Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly My Department’s Local and Community Development Programme (LCDP) is the largest social inclusion intervention of its kind in the State. The current Programme officially ended at the end of 2013 having operated for four years with funding of €281m over that period.  It is being implemented on a transitional basis for 2014 with a budget of €47m pending the roll out of the new Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme (SICAP) in April 2015.

  The SICAP is one of my key priorities. The Programme’s target groups are:

  - Children and Families from Disadvantaged Areas

  - Lone Parents

  - New Communities (including Refugees/Asylum Seekers)

  - People living in Disadvantaged Communities

  - People with Disabilities

  - Roma

  - The Unemployed (including those not on the Live Register)

  - Travellers

  - Young Unemployed People from Disadvantaged areas.

  In accordance with the Public Spending Code, legal advice, good practice internationally and in order to ensure the optimum delivery of services to clients, the Programme is subject to a public procurement process, which is currently underway.  Stage one (Expression of Interest) has been completed. Stage two (Invitation to Tender), got underway on 20 October and involves the successful applicants from Stage one being invited to apply to one or more Local Community Development Committees, in Local Authority areas, to deliver the programme. Contracts for SICAP will be determined following the outcome of the procurement process.

  The procurement process for SICAP is open to Local Development Companies, other not-for-profit community groups, commercial firms and national organisations that can provide the services to be tendered for to deliver the new Programme.

  In Stage one, joint applications were encouraged and organisations of varying sizes (for example smaller organisations working in consortia with larger organisations) were invited to submit joint applications.

  The LEADER elements of the Rural Development Programme will be available to Island communities in the 2014-2020 period in order to promote social inclusion, poverty reduction and economic development in rural areas. I have identified 28 sub-regional areas for the purpose of the design of LEADER Local Development Strategies (LDS) and while it is not proposed to have a separate LDS for the Islands, any LDS which has an island community as part of its territory will be required to outline specifically the challenges faced by these communities and how it is proposed to address these challenges in the context of the delivery of LEADER.  The process of both LDS and Local Action Group selection will begin in the coming weeks and I encourage the Islands communities outlined in the Question to engage with the process to ensure that their concerns are fully considered in the LDS for their areas.

Local Government Reform

 234. Deputy Seán Crowe Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly due to local government changes throughout the country, his proposals for towns that have to make up substantial differences between their historical commercial rate and the county rate. [42650/14]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Alan Kelly): Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly One of the key elements of Putting People First, the Action Programme for Effective Local Government, was a refocusing and re-invigoration of local authorities in support of enterprise, business and job creation. The Action Programme indicated that, in the context of the reorganisation of local governance structures, the proposed new municipal districts would provide an opportunity to achieve a more coherent approach to rates and charges on a county-wide basis having regard to funding requirements and the need to support employment and business competitiveness. The Local Government Reform Act 2014 provided for rates harmonisation to cater for differences between Annual Rates on Valuation (ARVs) of towns and counties. The approach taken to rates harmonisation was to seek to ensure, on the one hand, that harmonisation does not lead to a significant net loss of revenue in individual counties with consequential implications for services and, on the other hand, that increases in rates do not impact negatively on businesses and employment.

  My Department consulted with local authorities and devised a ‘Base Year Adjustment’ (BYA) mechanism to phase in increases and decreases in the ARV over a maximum of 10 years. From 2015 onwards, ratepayers will receive a rates bill clearly indicating the new harmonised ARV for the area but the annual amount payable by the individual ratepayer will be modified by applying a credit or debit to that bill i.e. the BYA.

  In 2015, this adjustment will effectively neutralise any increase or decrease for ratepayers that would otherwise take effect as a result of the difference in the new ARV for 2015 and that which applied in their rating authority in 2014. In other words, ratepayers will not pay any more (or less) in 2015 than they did in 2014, except in circumstances where there has been a change in the valuation of their premises or other circumstances affecting their liability. The BYA for 2015 will therefore be equal to the difference between the old ARV for that ratepayer and the new ARV. This credit or debit base year adjustment will reduce annually as harmonisation is achieved over a period of years.

  The decision on the new ARV and the amount of adjustment to be applied each year, and consequently the number of years it will take to harmonise the ARV for the county, will be a decision for the elected members.

Local Authority Staff

 235. Deputy Seán Crowe Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly if he will provide a breakdown of the amount of requests from Kildare County Council for more staff; and the areas they were for. [42651/14]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Alan Kelly): Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly The moratorium on recruitment and promotion in the public service was introduced in March 2009 in response to the financial crisis. My Department operates a delegated sanction from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for implementation of the moratorium in relation to local authorities, and any exceptions to the moratorium in local authorities require sanction from my Department. Under section 159 of the Local Government Act 2001, each Chief Executive is responsible for staffing and organisational arrangements, including staffing assignments, necessary for carrying out the functions of the local authorities for which he or she is responsible. In this regard, it is a matter for Chief Executives, in the first instance, to ensure that the moratorium is implemented while appropriate service levels are maintained.

My Department examines all staffing sanction requests on a case by case basis having due regard to the continued delivery of key services in the context of staffing and budgetary constraints. In considering sanction requests public safety, maintaining key front line services, and economic issues are given precedence.

The number of posts requested by Kildare County Council in 2014 to date is 60. These requested posts include posts to be filled internally by promotion or acting arrangements, and are spread across a wide range of Council activities, including planning, engineering, management/administration and fire services.

Water Pollution

 236. Deputy Seán Crowe Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly if his attention has been drawn to the fact that chromium 6 is possibly being discharged into the River Barrow in the Athy area. [42652/14]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Alan Kelly): Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly No issues regarding Chromium VI discharges to the River Barrow have been brought to my attention.

Chromium VI and Chromium III are listed as specific substances in the European Communities Environmental Objectives (Surface Waters) Regulations 2009. These Regulations contain Environmental Quality Standards (EQS) for substances discharged to waters. In accordance with these Regulations, monitoring of Irish surface waters is undertaken by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and by local authorities. Heavy metals, including total chromium in all its forms, are monitored in rivers on a monthly basis including at a number of sites on the River Barrow.

I am informed by the EPA that the mean total chromium concentration for the Barrow (2010-2014) is ca. 2.5 µg/l which is around half of the EQS for chromium as set out in the European Communities Environmental Objectives (Surface Waters) Regulations 2009. This concentration is well below the threshold at which further analysis for the various forms of chromium is required.

Household Charge Exemptions

 237. Deputy John Halligan Information on John Halligan Zoom on John Halligan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly if the Catholic Church is exempt from paying household tax as it is a registered charity, which results in an estimated loss to the State of in the region of €1.5 million per year; if the Catholic Church's status as a charity would further exempt it from paying water charges; if so, the estimated loss to the State this would represent; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42653/14]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Alan Kelly): Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly The Local Government (Household Charge) Act 2011 provided the legislative basis for the Household Charge.  Under the Act, an owner of a residential property on the liability date is liable to pay the Household Charge, unless otherwise exempted or entitled to claim a waiver. Section 4(1)(b) provides that bodies corporate that are accorded charitable status under tax law (section 848A of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997) will not be required to pay the charge for residential properties that they own.  The Household Charge was operational in respect of 2012 only, with arrears and penalties in respect of a 2012 liability being collected by local authorities assisted by the Local Government Management Agency on a shared services/agency basis up to and including 30 June 2013; at this point outstanding Household Charge liabilities became Local Property Tax liabilities and responsibility for collection transferred to the Revenue Commissioners.  Household Charge operational matters are a matter for the relevant local authority or for the Agency, including the issuing of certificates of waiver or exemption and all associated queries.

  As there is no requirement to register a property that is exempt from the Household Charge on the basis of being non-residential or having charitable status ownership or otherwise, it is not possible to state with any certainty the number of applicable exemptions and, accordingly, an accurate estimate of the associated revenue forfeited is not available.

The Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013 requires Irish Water to charge its customers in respect of the services provided. The Act defines the customer as the occupier of the premises in respect of which the water services are provided. There are no exemptions from water charges on the basis of charitable status.

Irish Water Administration

 238. Deputy Michael McGrath Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly if Irish Water has been rated by credit rating institutions to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42665/14]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Alan Kelly): Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly Irish Water is a non-consolidated subsidiary of Ervia and does not, at this point in time, have a separate credit rating. Ervia has an investment grade credit rating from each of Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s. Each of these ratings reflects the current relationship between Ervia and Irish Water. It is Ervia's intention to seek a stand alone credit rating for Irish Water at an appropriate time in the future.

Irish Water Establishment

 239. Deputy Lucinda Creighton Information on Lucinda Creighton Zoom on Lucinda Creighton asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly if he will confirm the existence of any or all recommendations internally or externally held in the Department prior to the establishment of Irish Water that stated the transfer of staff and the terms of employment of its staff and services should be at the discretion of the newly established company; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42670/14]

 240. Deputy Lucinda Creighton Information on Lucinda Creighton Zoom on Lucinda Creighton asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly if he will confirm when he or his Department officials became aware of the pay progression mechanism agreed between Ervia and trade unions last year for Irish Water; the date upon which this agreement was secured; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42671/14]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Alan Kelly): Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly I propose to take Questions Nos. 239 and 240 together.

  Since 1 January 2014, Irish Water has statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local levels.

  A fundamental underpinning of the water reform programme is to ensure that the skills and experience built up over many years in local authorities are put to best use for the long-term benefit of the customer and that there is no negative impact on service to customers during the transition. The Water Services (No.2) Act 2013 transferred statutory responsibility for water services to Irish Water and provided for local authorities to act as agents for Irish Water, with this relationship being expressed through Service Level Agreements (SLA). The SLA approach reflects the transformation agenda required for the sector, with provision for annual service plans which will set out required performance, budgets and headcount. The length of the service level agreement and the fact that the agreement will include a programme of change are reflected in a Framework document, agreed with the Trade Unions under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission, and which is available on my Department’s website, www.environ.ie.

  Irish Water is currently recruiting to build up the internal capabilities required within the organisation and the number of staff employed is an operational matter for Irish Water. It was agreed by the Steering Group for the Water Sector Reform programme that, to ensure skills within the sector were fully availed of in building up the new organisation, competitions for positions in asset management, capital delivery and operations would be restricted to staff in the partner organisations i.e. Bord Gáis Éireann, local authorities and my Department in the first instance. Open competitions are held for all other positions and details of these are available on Irish Water’s website, www.water.ie.

  The employment terms and conditions for Irish Water staff are a matter for the company and I understand that the pay model is something which was inherited from the parent company Ervia and therefore was not directly put in place by Irish Water. Like other commercial semi-state bodies, pay models are negotiated between management and unions and are then subject to a ballot as necessary, as occurred in Ervia’s case. The issue of pay progression is not a matter that would have been raised with my Department as it does not arise at present, given that a pay freeze is in place until 2016. Pay progression thereafter is not automatic and will be dependent on, inter alia, affordability.

  The Government will shortly consider proposals to establish a unified board arrangement for Ervia and Irish Water. One of the first actions that I will be asking the new Board to take will be to review the application and operation of the pay model outlined above in Irish Water, particularly in its start-up phase.


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